Half Writer, Half Gamer, Half Shark
I’m a devotee of science. I know that the universe is in compliance with natural laws. Belief in God, whilst cute and all, is up there with belief in magic, fairies and Elite 4. However, sometimes divine providence can manifest itself, like the day my mum asked the ten year old me what I wanted from the sweet shop. I said: “some sort of comic, Mother” and she turned up with issue 19 of Transformers. Unfuckwittable choice, mummy dearest.
One of my defining moments came, like many defining moments do, in primary school. This was a good defining moment, not the ‘touched in that way’ by the caretaker type. I was walking along the hallway with my friend – a twat called Allyn who was so much of a twat that his name was spelt wrong – when our teacher called us into a classroom. Ms Stein (the 80s was all about the Ms. pronoun because feminism was the new thing. Well that, AIDS and the band Five Star).
I don’t remember much about Ms Stein. She was tall, thin, had a cheery round face (so far I’m describing a spoon) and, based on my childhood age-reading abilities, was aged somewhere between 18 and 88. Oh, she had one more thing. A motherfucking, sweet as fuck ZX Spectrum. She called us in and fired up Jumping Jack – a simple but addictive platform game. Prior to this moment I had little or no interest in home gaming (I didn’t mind a quick 10p on a coin-op when I could get on one), but my first go on Jumping Jack was a successful one. I played for long enough on one life for Ms Stein to say: “Your turn Allyn.” He was fucking shit. In your face, bastard. I bet the prick-rotter ended up with a BBC MicrLOL.
Around this time, my best friend was cursed with a Commodore C-16. It was sort of like a pox but it looked worse and all its games were shit. Now, kids always want what their mates have and I didn’t know much better, so a bit of birthday and Xmas money was saved and we went into Dixons to buy a computer. My mum’s shrill foreign accent may have bamboozled the sales guy but he played a fucking blinder because I went home with a Speccy (unless it was mum’s choice, in which case “bravo Matriarch! Bravo!”). 48k of pure gaming bliss. BANG! Right in the kisser.
The Speccy was an 8-bit computer. To put that in layman’s terms, imagine your Xbox 360 was a 4×4 vehicle, the Speccy, technically speaking, is the small, crippled child it has just run over. It’s processor ran at slightly less than 4mhz (your current smart phone is well over a hundred times more powerful) and it had a palette of eight colours. You loaded in your games via audio cassette. You likely don’t even know what an audio cassette is, but that’s okay, you’re not missing much. It was more or less the shittest format for recording data and music that has ever existed and was more likely to fucking mangle your favourite tapes than it was to successfully play them. We put up with a lot in the 80s, for you it’d be like living in Rwanda.
Without the digital sound, high-powered graphics cards and complex processing units of today, the Sinclair Spectrum could look to you what a ball tied to a cup with a piece of string looked to us, but with great power comes great financial responsibility. That wasn’t the case back in the 80s. Games were knocked out in weeks, days or even hours. Subject matter and genres seemed to picked out by surrealists using bits of paper and a dart board and the results were… mixed to say the least. For all of the creative freedom the simplistic medium allowed, it didn’t always lead to great games and, as with any early system, you’ll be searching through a lot of chaff to get to the wheaty goodness and… fuck it, I’m not recommending anything in this article as it’d invariably make most modern gamers vomit actual pixels over themselves.
To keep up with it, you needed good, reliable games journalism from people like you who’d tell you how it was. For the Speccy you had three choices: the high-class, slightly-influenced-by-the-publishers Crash magazine, the cheap and cheerful Sinclair User and the anarchic Your Sinclair. Invariably, most Spec-chums would purchase all three, pocket money allowing, to get a good grasp of how good a game was. Crash had the quality, with a thick magazine, staffed by pros who knew how to create a slick product. Sinclair User was the poor relation. It looked average but their scoring was mostly sound. Their rather-unwisely chosen mascot, Kamikaze Bear, made it seem a little bit childish though.
Your Sinclair however was where it was at. They had decent reviewers including the barbed-but-gifted Stuart Campbell and the hilarious Duncan McDonald, as well as a host of oft-repeated in-jokes which gave it the feel of a toned-down Viz meets a Harry Enfield sketch show. The reviews felt more honest and less po-faced than other magazines did and were the star of the mag, even though it was pretty enjoyable from cover to cover and it was a good guide as to what to get and what to avoid. It also set a blueprint, at least in my head, as to how to write about games. You want to be honest and professional for sure but you need to throw in a little attitude. Fuck the publishers, they’ve got enough money. Do your readers need to buy the game, or leave well alone? If you want to be a good reviewer, people need to trust you. These are the lessons that gaming handed to us in the eighties.
I knew back then that I wanted to write about games. I also wanted to be a superstar guitarist, a badass kung fu master and possibly a colonial marine. I wasn’t one for fucking about with photocopiers and the like, making fanzines, although some were planned out. Eventually, after a long time, the internet came a calling and after three or four aborted early attempts, I finally put a site together and tried to shape it to my own style (talking bollocks) and values (talking bollocks, but honestly, while swearing). A couple of years later, I found myself shoving a little content towards Gaming Lives because it’s good to put yourself out there, share the love and test yourself alongside decent writers and people who are passionate about this shit (and don’t just say they are).
These days anyone can put together a decent-looking site and review a few games. With no distribution costs, all you need is a mission statement and a work ethic (and a winning smile). You can be rough around the edges and a bit punk rock or you can put in the time and produce something to a professional standard, but you need to remember that you’re writing for you and people like you. Would you be happy if you bought that game? Would you recommend it to your best friend? If you wouldn’t but are going to be swayed by a few freebies from EA or Activision then it’s time to consider a job you’re more suited to, such as a used car salesman or prostitute. Are you prepared to rush out a review of a game that you’ve barely played just to get an exclusive? Then maybe you’d consider a job in, say, politics or the news media. Or marketing, or fucking sucking off tramps for crack rocks. Whatever.
When it comes down to it, I’m a gamer and you’re a gamer. If you’ve chosen to write about games then do yourself justice because, if you’ve ever been in the press queue for a major gaming expo you’ll know that there are a hundred other people in front of you and another hundred behind you who are writing about this stuff (and they’ll slit your throat and eat your Twitter account, he said dramatically). You’re a gamer. You’re not CoD over Battlefield, or PS3 over Xbox, or fucking EA over Activision. You are not what you own and only a fool gets attached to his or her purchases. You’re a gamer. Be a gamer. Not a shill, not a corporate cocksucker. Maybe you started out with a Speccy, an Atari, an N64 or a PlayStation 2. Who knows. Your gaming journey could be the same as mine or utterly different. But if you love it and want to talk about it, get some content out there. Get your thoughts down on a page. Tell the world if the new Need For Racing A Lot: Twats In Carz is good or a lot of dogshit, but if you’re going to give over-inflate its score or under-rate it based on a pre-existing bias for or against the publisher, you have no place writing about it. And if you do, I’ll hunt you down and flush your dog’s head down the toilet.
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